The Ten Year Rule

        After my last post a reader sent me a note they enjoyed the discussion on the path to expertise, so I thought I’d follow up on the subject.

        I believe in the ten year rule.  (No, this is not related to shifts in political power.)  The ten year rule refers to the idea that competence in any discipline takes time.  If you want to transform yourself, you have to vizualize what you want to be decade from now.  Often folks give up before they start.  There are many nice guitars bought for Christmas that wind up in the closet by Easter.

        For me it was true in golf, for the mandolin, and even more so in medicine.  As a writer, I have been at in since 2000.  All indications are I will get my book out there in 2010, so it looks like it might hold up yet again.

        Kids are not as self conscious as adults.  When you are twelve and a bad fiddler, no one cares.  In fact, it often seems cute.  Sometimes people are not as charitable towards adults.  And grownups are harder on themselves than kids will be in regards to the learning curve.  For some reason, I was always willing to cut myself some slack.  My daughter always said I made it to competence as a mandolinist because I had no shame.  I was willing to play gigs before I had any business on stage.  Believe me, the first nine years were rough but around the end of the first decade it began to come around.

        You might say the ten year rule only applies because I am slow.  That might be true, but if so, tortises unite!  I never claimed to be a hare anyway, exept maybe a wild one. 

        I also believe it is true one can not work their way to greatness.   I’m a 7 handicap golfer.  If I quit my day job tomorrow and hit balls all day I wouldn’t be a pro.  It just wasn’t what the Good Lord had in mind for me.  I could play mandolin all day every day and not sound like Darin Aldridge or Wayne Benson.  By the way, I know what kind of time they gave to be that good, and it was a lot.

          It is even more true in medicine.  I worked hard to be my best, but we had one cat in the class I couldn’t touch.  Tom Bailey was the smartest human I ever knew.  He had a photographic memory.  I could make 94th or so, but he was good for the 99th every time.  It finally got the the point I had to pray about it.

        “Lord, why did you not let me be as smart as Tom Bailey?”

        “Son, I wanted you to be smart enough to talk to him, but dumb enough to be a country doctor.”

        And so it was.  I don’t question that; I accept and embrace it.  I try to be the best Dr. Bibey I can be, flaws and all.  That is all we are asked to do.  

        But for me, as  a Doc it took ten years from the day I got my acceptance letter to the time when I felt I was reasonably good at what I do.  I guess I’m a little slow, but I’m the best Dr. B I know how to be, and that is good enough, even though it falls short of perfection.

         But speaking of perfection, we had our little Corporate Compliance lady in today and she said I made 100.  It made for a good start to the weekend.  I’m off early and gonna do some picking, so I’ll talk to you soon.

Dr. B

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16 Comments on “The Ten Year Rule”

  1. I enjoyed this post, Dr. B. I think you make some extremely valid points – and I regret the fact that I’m one of those impatient people who don’t take the learning curve well. I hope I’ll be able to get back on my guitar and really give myself the time, and I hope that whatever I choose to do with my life I’ll let myself learn how to do it properly.
    Your wise words were really good for me to read now, close as I am to beginning my “adult” life and going to college. I thank you for them.

  2. drtombibey Says:


    In opinion you have a wonderful brain and should be able to do whatever you set your mind to. (Just be sure to give it ten years before you fret over not getting there yet!)

    Dr. B

  3. danny fulks Says:

    I agree with the concept, give you take a mach. I did four serious jobs: school teacher, school principal, college professor, writer. Then bigger yet, parent to two girls, add six grandchildren. As far as teaching adults it takes a good while, a lot of experimentation, bucking the deans, subverting the system, studying psychology and practicing the principles as they fit your personality. Then you become a person who doesn’t have to play roles, be the same all the time, drop the authoritarianism, relax and enjoy the time you have with the great people who pass your way, see them as persons–not numbers or names on a grade scale. The individual is more important than the institution, people are more important than things, be subjective rather than objective, for example. A girl in a five week summer class is pregnant, will have the baby with two weeks of class left. I tell her I can give her a B and call it even if she will name the baby after me. She says she need an A awful bad. I say then I’ll give an incomplete and you can come back and do the rest of the work when you feel better. She goes for that deal. I tell the other students others are pregnant I will give them the same deal. They don’t complain, fell it was fair. Don’t need no policy statements, no need to tell the dean, seek her advice, no need to fret over it, worry I will be accused of being too easy or playing favorites or diminishing the content. (we weren’t learning when to put the flaps down when landing an airplane) Nothing to hide. The Age of Reason has been around a long time and I just believe in rational acts, reasonable assumptions, a form of humanism, after all, this world was secular.

  4. drtombibey Says:

    Dr. Fulks,

    I once read about a stock broker. He was our kind of guy. Wore flannel shirts, string ties, and cowboy boots, and propped his feet up on his desk when he talked to clients.

    When the corporate guys wanted him to push the company’s pet limited real estate venture on some little retired school teacher, he would say “Hell, my people don’t need that.” The brass hated him.

    There was only one problem. Everyone knew he always acted in the client’s best interest, so folks flocked to him in droves. There was nothing the big shots could do; he brought in way too much business.

    I’ll bet you are that kind of teacher, and I try to be that kind of doctor. I work for a corporate outfit. They have been good to me, but I tell my patients they are my boss. If the company ever decides I’m too gray and they are gonna let me go, I have to depend on my patients to come to my rescue.

    Dr. B

  5. delicate flower Says:

    In a world where everything and everyone is expected to go at lightening speed your approach is refreshing. Thank you.
    When I find time to slow down I will begin to research some of the musical names you have shared. Listening to acoustic, heartfelt, authentic music helps bring me back to center… your writing does that as well.

  6. drtombibey Says:

    Ms. Flower,

    Hey thanks for the visit and the insight too.

    One time one of our nurses said, “Old Doc is like a great big wheel. He might turn slow, but he turns sure.”

    Go over to the myspace page for Darin Aldridge and Brooke Justice (now Aldridge, they got married in December) and listen to ‘Wayfaring Stranger.’ You’ll dig it.

    Hope you’ll come back and visit again.

    Dr. B

  7. delicate flower Says:

    You are on my personal favorites list..I’ll be back.

  8. drtombibey Says:

    Ms. Flower,

    Cool. I get the notion you are a young lady. Sometime I’ll do a post on my daughter. You’ll dig her. She loves pink ’cause it goes with her black belt from karate! She’s a neat kid, and I am very proud of her.

    I also have a son who is a paramedic. He is my golf buddy. If anyone else would outdrive me 50 yards it might make me envious but I am equally proud of him, too.

    Any rate, appreciate you dropping in on Doc Bibey’s world. I am an old guy, and have been married for many years, and all to the same lady. When you get to our age, we are always flattered if the young folks want to hear what we have to say.

    Dr. B

  9. size 10 Says:

    Is that the same as 10,000 hours? I don’t have ten years to finish my book, become famous and move to Barcelona to write the second one.

  10. delicate flower Says:

    Well, aren’t you the sweetest thing on the planet, and i mourn the fact that you are taken. I’m 54! but thanks for the killer compliment! Your wife is a lucky lady.

  11. drtombibey Says:

    size ten,

    I have read about the 10,000 hour approach, and I think it also has merit. I know a great guitar player who got there that way, and I asked how he found the time. He said, “Doc, you gotta realize when I learned to play, I had no job, no bills and nothing to worry about except what mama was gonna fix for supper.”

    Maybe the ten year rule can be short-circuited if one has a benefactor!

    Dr. B

  12. drtombibey Says:

    Ms. Flower,

    Well, you are just a young’un. Maybe more baby sister age than daughter, but a young’un nonetheless.

    I got awful lucky with my wife, ’cause I am a Doc, a bluegrass picker and play a bit of golf. When I decided I just had to add writer to the mix she went right along.

    It has been an interesting life for us both, though. She plays music too and is a weaver, quilter, and into arts and crafts big time. We’ve had a bunch of fun.

    Dr. B

  13. Smitty Neuse River Pres. Says:

    I still keep in mind about the ten year rule with learning to play the mando that you stated to me on the golf course. I remember just learing how to play two finger chords and playing I”ll Fly Away.
    Three years later, we have a group and I am practicing all these licks, double stops and kickoffs.Seven more years to go.

    Now that is my number. At work they know that I am going to take seven minutes,hours or days to answer a question. Seven seconds is really not an option where I work, unless it is a fire drill.

  14. Dr. B,

    I like the notion of 10 years to get to real competence, since we’re so demanding of ourselves. It also makes me think about career change – in the past, folks changed careers about every 7 years. Now this could mean they leave before they are truly competent (or have reached a skill level that is “good enough”) or it could mean that they are competent, have gotten bored and are ready to move on.

    For me, I get bored (I’m a “good enough”)and need a change. But I see those who don’t, and they are the ones who become masters.

    PS. I’m on Facebook. Hope to see you soon. 🙂

  15. drtombibey Says:


    Heck man you are already a player.

    Dr. B

  16. drtombibey Says:

    Ms. Pam,

    Well if I don’t find you it is only because I am lost!

    Dr. B

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